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Vulvodynia - Overview

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This topic is for women who have vulvodynia, a type of vulvar pain with no known cause. If your doctor has told you that the pain in your vulva is caused by something else, like an infection or a skin problem, see the topic Female Genital Problems and Injuries.

What is vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is pain in the vulva that can't be explained by another health problem, such as an infection or a skin problem. The vulva is the area around the opening of your vagina.

The main parts of the vulva are:

  • The clitoris. This is the small, sensitive female organ that gets aroused during sex.
  • The labia. These are the folds of skin that cover the vagina and the opening of the urethra.
  • The opening of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.

See a picture of the vulva camera.gif.

What causes vulvodynia?

Doctors don't know the exact cause of vulvodynia. But some things that may help cause it include:

In most cases, vulvar pain is a symptom of some other problem. And when that problem is treated, the pain often goes away. Some conditions that may cause vulvar pain include yeast infections and other vaginal infections, atrophic vaginitis, lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, or an allergic reaction to soaps or other products, such as vaginal sprays or douches.

What are the symptoms?

Pain is the main symptom of vulvodynia. Depending on the person, the pain may:

  • Be felt only in one spot, such as near the opening of the vagina, and only when something touches that area. This is called localized vulvodynia. Or you may feel the pain on or around most of the vulva, even when nothing touches those areas. This is called generalized vulvodynia.
  • Be constant or come and go for months or even years.
  • Be mild or very bad.
  • Be felt during and after sex.
  • Flare up when you sit on a bicycle, put in a tampon, or wipe your vulva.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Burning or stinging.
  • Itching.
  • Swelling.
  • Throbbing.
  • Rawness.

How is vulvodynia diagnosed?

Your doctor will first ask you about your past health, your sexual history, and your symptoms. Then he or she will do a pelvic exam to rule out other possible causes for your pain, such as an infection or a skin problem.

During the exam, your doctor may use a cotton swab to touch different areas on and around your vulva to see where the pain is and how bad it is. If he or she sees a problem or any skin changes, you may need a biopsy. This means that your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue from your vulva and send it to a lab to be studied for the cause of your pain. Your doctor may also recommend an exam called a colposcopy to take a closer look at the cells on your vulva.

If a cause for your pain is not found, you may have vulvodynia.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 01, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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